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Iris DeMent

Saturday, May 25, 2024

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Iowa City, IA

On her transcendent new record, Workin' On A World, Iris DeMent faces the modern world — as it is right now — with its climate catastrophe, pandemic illness, and epidemic of violence and social injustice — and not only asks us how we can keep working towards a better world, but implores us to love each other, despite our very different ways of seeing. Her songs are her way of healing our broken inner and outer spaces.

With an inimitable voice as John Prine described, "like you've heard, but not really,"  and unforgettable melodies rooted in hymns, gospel, and old country music, she's simply one of the finest singer-songwriters in America as well as one of our fiercest advocates for human rights. Her debut record Infamous Angel, which just celebrated its 30th anniversary, was recently named one of the “greatest country albums of all time” by Rolling Stone, and the two albums that followed, My Life and The Way I Should, were both nominated for GRAMMYs. From there, DeMent released three records on her own label, Flariella Records, the most recent of which, The Trackless Woods (2015), was hailed as “a quietly powerful triumph” by The Guardian. DeMent’s songs have also been featured in film (True Grit) and television (The Leftovers) and recorded by numerous artists. Fittingly, she received the Americana Music Trailblazer Award in 2017.

Workin' On A World, her seventh album, started with the worry that woke DeMent up after the 2016 elections: how can we survive this?  “Every day some new trauma was being added to the old ones that kept repeating themselves, and like everybody else, I was just trying to bear up under it all,” she recalls. She returned to a truth she had known since childhood: music is medicine. “My mom always had a way of finding the song that would prove equal to whatever situation we were facing. Throughout my life, songs have been lending me a hand. Writing songs, singing songs, putting them on records, has been a way for me to extend that hand to others.”

The result is a hopeful album — shimmering with brilliant flashes of poignant humor and uplifting tenderness — that speaks the truth, “in the way that truth is always hopeful,” she explains.  Reflecting on the lyrics of the song “The Sacred Now” (“see these walls/ let’s bring ‘em on down / it’s not a dream; it’s the sacred now”), DeMent is reminded of Jesus saying the Kingdom of God is within you and the Buddhist activist monk Thich Nhat Hanh saying the rose is in the compost; the compost is in the rose. On Workin’ On A World, Iris DeMent demonstrates that songs are the healing and the healing arises through song.

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